Anna - Carl Junction, Missouri
Entered on October 2, 2009

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The aroma of salted peanuts and homemade fudge filled the air when I stepped into the tiny shop. Jean, the owner, called out a warm and welcome hello to my mother and me as we walked over to the counter to peruse the magazines Jean had gotten in the day before. I peered over the counter at the smiling ancient face and felt comforted, like I was with family. Jean winked as she handed me a bottle of Dr. Pepper and continued her casual conversation with my mother. Long gone are the days of Jean’s Place and Jean herself, but the memories of her are still vivid in my mind. It was those unexceptional experiences as a child growing up in small town America that made me the woman I am today.

Every core value and ideal I hold dearly, I learned in small town America. I learned that when you ride your bike through your neighbor’s garden, she has every right to haul you by the ear to your parent’s doorstep. I learned that you can find out just about anything by leaning over your neighbor’s fence to visit while taking a break from mowing your lawn. Life lessons were gifted to me by experiencing that when our neighbor’s husband passed away, we grieved as well and when my sister and her husband had their firstborn son, that very neighbor rejoiced with us. Living in small town America, I grew up with an entire town as my extended family. I grew up with bake sales, cakewalks, school carnivals, church ice cream socials, dime stores and one local restaurant where everyone gathered for coffee and farm talk. I grew up with handmade quilts for Christmas gifts and playing outside until the streetlights came on.

Life was simpler and richer in so many ways. Values and responsibilities were clear-cut and there was no such thing as being too busy to sew a costume for the school play. I miss so many things about that time, for some things I experienced in my childhood are gone forever. Society progresses, people move on. Life for us becomes more technologically advanced every day. People have stocks and bonds to worry about. Their 401ks and mortgages to fret over. The world is changing, for the better or worse.

With all this change and turmoil, I feel so very fortunate to be able to say that I still live in small town America. Those of us here in the four states can still honestly say that though shopping centers and subdivisions have come up where mom and pop stores used to reside, we still wave at perfect strangers walking by because it’s the polite thing to do. We can honestly say that we know the majority of the people in our neighborhood. We can honestly say that we still lean over the fence to visit while taking a break from mowing the lawn.